Mt. Goddard in a Day

11 Sep 2005 - by Bob Burd

This one had been a long time in preparation. I had first considered it some four years earlier when I first set out to dayhike the SPS Emblem peaks. Mt. Goddard was #2 in difficulty behind Mt. Kaweah and it was some time before I felt I was physically and mentally ready to give it a try. An excellent outing to Junction Peak during the Sierra Challenge a month earlier had convinced me that I could do the dayhike and actually enjoy it. It wasn't something novel by any stretch. Bob Rockwell spent something like seven or eight tries before managing to do it in a day. Matthew Holliman had done it in 2004 and described it at the time as the most difficult dayhike he'd ever done (he has since surpassed that). My goal was to not just complete it, but do so without the I-wish-it-were-over feeling I've gotten for the last several hours on some of my longer efforts that were pushing my limits. It was almost certain that it would take more than 16 hours, which was the longest time I'd yet spent on a dayhike. Anytime I set out to surpass the previous limit, I have a certain amount of queasiness over how I'm going to feel in those last hours of the day. Testing your limits is a fine balance between the joy of pushing the envelope, and suffering that ensues if you burn out too early.

In addition to Matthew, I got Jeff Dhungana and Rick Kent to join me for the outing. Jeff and Rick had climbed with us during the Challenge, so I had high confidence in their abilities. Having already been to Goddard, Matthew planned to accompany us for most of the distance, then peel off to climb nearby Mt. McGee. Our initial plan was to start at Lake Sabrina and hike in over Haeckel Col. From studying the maps, that seemed the shortest possible route from a trailhead to the summit, something like 13 miles. Matthew had previously gone to Goddard via Lamarck Col, a longer route by some four miles, but easier to navigate with trail nearly the whole way. Jeff, Matthew, and I were eating an early dinner at Jacks in Bishop around 3p, pondering our route. We started to have second thoughts about the wisdom of heading over a class 3 pass in the dark that none of us had been to, and by the time dinner was over we'd convinced ourselves that Lamarck Col would be a better choice.

We were in bed by 5p, the alarm going off shortly before 1a. We got up and ate sugar-loaded pastries for breakfast, then headed up to North Lake. Rick was supposed to meet us at the trailhead, but because of car trouble was unsure if he would be able to join us. We stopped at the Lake Sabrina TH to see if he was there, and sure enough he was all set, headlamp ablaze. We told him of our slight change in plan, then all drove to the North Lake TH a few miles off. It was a bit after 2a when the four of us started out. It was cold, even for September, somewhere around freezing at the TH. We expected it to be even colder at Larmarck Col. We had jackets, hats, and gloves, and as we started out I was wearing all the clothes I was bringing with me. If it was too windy and cold higher up, I would probably have to turn back.

It took only a few minutes on the trail to realize I was the slowest in our little group. I stepped aside to let the others pass, and I only caught up with them periodically when one would stop to remove or add a jacket, or they stopped to regroup and take a short break. I had more than ten years on all of them (20+ years on Jeff), and I was feeling like the old guy. It didn't bother me much, I figured I'd get there when I get there, and somehow I secretly hoped I was just doing a better job of pacing myself than the others. It was wishful thinking - these guys were just better. I watched their headlamps bobbing in the distance above me as we wound around the many switchbacks on the way to the col. In the upper plateau east of the col, it did indeed grow colder and a bit windier, but nothing as severe as the previous morning. The others reached the col by 4:30p, myself a few minutes behind. We realized we had climbed it about 15 minutes faster than we had done during the Challenge a month earlier. This made me feel better about my lagging, and helped confirm I wasn't slowing down - the others were just picking it up. From the col we could see the lights of Bishop behind us, the faint outline of the mountains around us, and a myriad of stars above us. All else was darkness. It was far too cold and windy to loiter at the col, so we pressed on over as soon as I had caught up.

We did a fine job of descending the other side by headlamp. We scrambled over class 3 rocks and boulders in fairly quick fashion on the descent into Darwin Canyon. As we'd hoped, the wind had nearly vanished by the time we reached the lakes. It was still cold and dark, but far more tolerable. We were eagerly anticipating sunrise and the warming of the new day. Matthew went off ahead of us as we headed west down the canyon. Jeff and Rick slowed to my pace, likely because this was their first trip down the canyon, and it is a bit hard to follow the on-again, off-again nature of the use trail that winds its way along the north side of the lakes. By the time we reached Darwin Bench it was light enough to leave off our headlamps. Matthew was nowhere to be seen. We made our way down to the John Muir Trail as it climbs up out of Evolution Valley to Evolution Basin. We took a short break when we reached the trail, then headed up to Evolution Lake. A single camper, bundled up against the morning chill, was standing sentinel over a small group of tents. I waved as we passed by, but it elicited no response. He was definitely looking a lot colder than us. The sun was hidden behind the Sierra crest to the east of us as we hiked up through Evolution Basin. But by now the day was warming and the lack of sun was not as sorely missed. We passed a few others as well, including a pair who were in the process of breaking down their camp. We asked if they'd seen Matthew ahead of us, but they replied in the negative. Perhaps he had gotten behind somewhere on Darwin Bench? A small mystery.

We pulled off the JMT shortly before reaching Wanda Lake, getting the first sunshine of the day. From here our route would go cross-country, heading for the pass just west of the lake. While we paused to fill water bottles and have a snack, Matthew pulled in behind us. He had seen us lower in the basin, but hadn't bothered to catch up. He'd been pausing often to take pictures with the new day and looked to have made a leisurely hike of it. It had taken us a bit more than the six hours I had expected it to take to reach this point. It wasn't often lately that I'd been able to estimate times so well. I was hoping we might make the summit in eight hours, but that didn't seem too likely at this point. Still, we made good time. We scrambled up the boulders to the pass, getting our first views of both Goddard and McGee. The latter looked far more daunting from this angle, but Matthew asserted that there was a class 3 route up it somewhere. We bid him farewell as we split our party, and before long we lost sight of him scrambling down to Davis Lakes and towards McGee.

Goddard was finally looking close. I had been on more than a dozen peaks along the Sierra crest in the vicinity, and it had always seemed to be still quite far away. Getting close had seemed quite difficult then, but here we were, still with plenty of energy. As we made our way across the broad basin draining through Davis Lakes, we approached the NE Ridge which marked the start of Starr's Route with a better appreciation for the climb. It looked nothing like the class 2 slog we were expecting, and portions of the ridge looked fairly daunting from a distance. Now, had we done a proper amount of beta collecting beforehand, we'd have found that the class 2 route starts by heading around the ridge to the west side and climbing 300-400ft of talus before climbing onto the ridge itself. Matthew actually knew this, but we didn't bother to extract it from him. We simply knew the route to be class 2 according to Secor - how hard could that be?

We decided on the direct approach from the toe of the buttress rising up to the ridge. It seemed the most "proper" way to start, and the rock looked fairly solid. We passed by a stream when about half way across the basin, ice encrusting the banks and rocks along it. It was sunny, but the temperature was still chilly, probably in the high 30's. We had about 20 feet of snow to cross at the start of the buttress, and we found ourselves climbing along the moat between the snow and the rock, traversing along until we could find an entry point to safely climb onto the rock. It was a bit surprising to find stiff class 3 scrambling at the very beginning. A dusting of snow still lingered on the ledges and in cracks from two days earlier, adding a bit to the difficulties. But for the most part the rock was solid and enjoyable. We scrambled up, enjoying the first real climbing of the day, the approach taking up the first seven hours. For half an hour we found the climbing fairly sustained at this level, punctuated with brief sections of talus-strewn ramps. A bit over-confident, at one point we found ourselves doing a short class 4 section with exposure that we probably should have found a way to avoid. One of the footholds broke off on me halfway across, lending a bit of seriousness to the task at hand. After this little difficultly, we collectively decided to keep that as the crux and find better ways of tackling what should be an easy mountain.

About 1/3 of the way up the slope lessens and the ridge climb becomes easier, if slightly less enjoyable. Approaching the headwall at the 2/3 juncture, we decided against looking for the class 3 route reported up this steep section, and handily found the class 2 ramp that bypasses the face to the left. It took an hour to complete the ridge and reach the Goddard Divide. From here we knew it was primarily a talus slog to the summit, still 800 feet above us. It took another hour to make the last half mile to the summit. Rick had started to slow down as we began the climb along the crest. In the final 200ft I couldn't keep up a steady pace and had to stop to catch my breath periodically. Jeff passed by during one of these short breaks, looking almost as fresh as he did at the start. It was just before 11a when Jeff reached the summit, myself a few minutes later. Rick wasn't ten minutes behind, and remarkably we had three at the summit without losing anybody enroute.

The views were exceptional due to the cold temps and the high winds the previous day that had swept out all the dust and smog. Mt. Goddard is almost ideally located to get an insider's view of the High Sierra. It is high enough and far enough from the Sierra crest to provide a unique view spanning more than 180 degrees, taking in the range's highest peaks from Mt. Lyell in the NW to the Kaweahs to the south. Truly a breathtaking sight. Nearby we took in the views of the Ionian Basin to the south, Charybdis and Scylla guarding the entrance to the Enchanted Gorge, the White Divide to the west, the Evolution area to the north. Mt. Mcgee didn't appear any easier from our current vantage point, and we wondered how Matthew was fairing on his quest for its summit. For such a remote peak, the register entries were somewhat frequent, more than a dozen parties each year. The last person up had been but two days earlier. I took particular note of Scylla, noting the 2.5 miles separating it from Goddard did not look overly difficult. I had had a "stretch" goal of trying to include Scylla in with Goddard, but only if I could make Goddard within 8 hours. I was still tempted, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed it would be an epic, possibly a very disagreeable one. I still didn't know how I was going to feel at the end of the day climbing just Goddard, so it seemed better not to push my luck too far. We stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes before starting back down.

We retraced our steps down Starr's Route. Rick decided to bail off the class 2 route from the ridge on the lower half while Jeff and I continued down the class 3 to the toe where we'd started in the morning. Coming upon the bit of class 4 we'd taken in the morning, we found a more reasonable way around that stretch. A short distance ahead of the others during the descent, I heard voices wafting up from below. When I could get a clear view down to the basin, I could see a party of four resting on the grassy slopes of the Davis Lakes Basin, not far from the toe. Once back down the route I recrossed the moat (getting more pics of Jeff who'd caught up by now), then across the snow and down the slopes to those below. We stopped to chat with them, finding that they had camped near Wanda Lake and come up for an attempt at Goddard. They said they had climbed half of the route before turning around, unable to find a class 2 continuation. The exit ramp seemed to be the key piece they had missed. They were of course surprised to find out we were dayhiking the peak, one their party asking three times where we were camped because he kept thinking he misheard us. Upon leaving them, they called out for one last question, "One of you wouldn't happen to be Bob, would you?" We laughed, particularly after he mentioned the Wall Street Journal article. "You read that?" I asked incredulously. It had been printed only four days earlier, and here was a guy we ran into far into the backcountry who reads the Wall Street Journal. They seemed excited to actually see me in the flesh, raising their hands in cheer. And so we left them.

Back over the saddle west of Wanda Lake, then the long march down Evolution Basin on the JMT. Rick told us he was going to take a slower pace on the way back and soon fell behind. We passed by a few backpackers on the trail, but the handful of campsites we'd passed by in the morning were all abandoned now, seemingly everyone leaving at the end of the weekend. We saw no one camping anywhere for the rest of the return.

Once we left the JMT below Evolution Lake, it was time to start the uphill. Ugh. Now I got to find out how tired I was. I did well climbing up through Darwin Bench since the slope isn't too steep, and it was easy enough to navigate the nearly flat traverse around the Darwin Lakes. Nearing the last lake at the head of the canyon, I asked Jeff if he knew where we were going. It was a bit of trick question, because I knew that finding Lamarck Col from this side was a bit difficult. Jeff had never been over the col before, and it was dark when we came down in the morning. He pointed to a likely-looking candidate well to the north of the correct one, and I laughed. "Ha! Good thing you've got me along!" I pointed out the correct one which really caught Jeff by surprise. Then he commented, "What about Rick?" I stopped laughing with this sobering thought. If Rick was much later, it might be near dark before he started the climb. He wouldn't have much time to find the correct exit over the crest. We considered that it might be best to wait for him. But then we recalled that he had a GPS with him. He had been using it throughout the day, having loaded some mapping software on it that had all the Sierra trails as part of the database. He'd showed us that it not only included the maintained trails such as the JMT, but also had the use trail going over Lamarck Col. We concluded that the GPS would save his ass and we didn't need to wait for him (he did use it to find his way back as we found out later).

Now it was time for the last big climb out, 1,200ft to the col. I knew my legs were nearing the end of their climbing limits. I started off well enough, but my pace soon slowed. I would plod along through the sand and over the boulders for about five minutes, then plop down on a rock feeling spent. I'd give the legs a minute to rest, then plod on for another five minutes. Jeff didn't even look tired. Of course he said he was tired and beat, but I think that was just to make me feel better. It was amusing to hear Jeff, half my age, trying to pump me up and encourage me to keep going. "You're doing great! You can do it! You don't need to stop!" Ha! I knew my limits. I was quite happy that I wasn't nauseous, feeling AMS, or otherwise having a bad time. But there was no denying I was tired. I didn't mind that I had to stop half a dozen times on that last climb to the col, and I relished every stop. I told Jeff he was certainly welcome to continue, but he stayed with me the entire way. Just before we reached the top of the col I was going to take another rest, then decided to stick it out and keep moving, so Jeff could at least get some payback for all his good-natured cheerleading.

It was almost 6p when we went over the crest, the sun starting its descent towards the western horizon. We didn't pause at the col a moment, but continued over and down. The sun wouldn't set for another hour, but it was the last sunshine we had as the day drew to a close and it grew chillier. We stopped only briefly to put jackets during the entire descent to the trailhead. As I had expected, my tired legs were given a reprieve once the downhill started, and I felt like I had renewed energy. We even jogged a bit once we neared Lamarck Lakes, which we kept up wherever the trail was clear enough to keep from accidently tripping. Eventually the sun set and the available light grew weaker as we made our way down through the forested areas. We stopped jogging when the light was too weak to navigate safely, and made our way out to the trailhead and back to the cars at 7:50p.

17h45m was our official time, the longest either of us had ever been out on a hike. Rick returned to the trailhead two hours later. Matthew was another 30 minutes behind Rick. Mt. McGee turned out to be a harder dayhike than Goddard, but Matthew had done it in fine style. For Rick it was also a record time for being out, but no so for Matthew - he has a few 20+ hours under his belt and this was hardly the toughest outing for him. It had been a highly successful day, thanks to good weather and good conditioning. Next on the monster dayhike list: Mt. Kaweah. I can hardly wait...

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